Tough loners, intricate plots, and “irresistible” location work: Jonathan Kirshner takes a look at Melville’s Two Men in Manhattan, Le Doulos, and Le Deuxieme Souffle, three films that “can be dubbed [the director’s] “noir improvisations,” a nod to Bertrand Tavernier’s observation that Melville approaches filmmaking like a jazz musician, reinterpreting and experimenting with the standards—in this case, with the classic templates of film noir and the codes and conventions of cinematic gangsters.”
“A guy named Steve Rubell had a dream….” The announcement that the director’s cut of Mark Christopher’s 54 would screen at the Berlin Film Festival was greeted mostly with mild surprise that the 1998 flop had enough of a cult to indulge such rehabilitation. But however the new edit turns out, the story of the film’s making is your classic Hollywood should-have-been-a-success story; Louis Jordan tells this latest variation, with Christopher’s ambitions insufficient to ward off Harvey Weinstein’s anxious interference with a film he feared too gay and too morally ambiguous to show in theaters.
“‘Fundamentally farcical,’ he explained, ‘We didn’t have the spirit of seriousness, but we were serious.’ Later he cued up a still from Laurel and Hardy’s Wrong Again: ‘That’s the Dziga Vertov Group, two guys forced to act as the third leg of a piano with a horse on it.’” Max Goldberg offers highlights of a recent talk by Jean-Pierre Gorin about the goals of his and Godard’s Dziga Vertov Group, which Gorin paints as more playful and formalist than has generally been accredited; though part of that might stem from what Gorin acknowledges as the mission’s failure.
“He told me he had begun pre-production on a film about gambling in Monte Carlo but that he had pulled the plug when he was denied permission to shut down the casino for the shoot. He also told me that he had tried to make a film version of Genesis in Aramaic, but that he wasn’t able to raise the millions of dollars he needed for “a real flood.”” Caveh Zahedi offers a brief account of a meeting with Robert Bresson of which it’s possible to believe every word and still think the old master was being more playful and prankish than the condescending young man was able to hear. Via Criterion.
From a 1980 issue of Cahiers du Cinéma, David Davidson translates Olivier Assayas’s rave review of Carpenter’s The Fog.
“When she gazes upward with blurry eyes and intones, “I must be punished,” it becomes shockingly clear that this relationship has nothing to with religion….” Imogen Smith looks back to before our abiding image of Joan Crawford became fixed (“a hard woman on the edge of hysteria, with caterpillar eyebrows, big shoulders, and burning eyes”), to the dazzlingly mercurial performer for a collection of studio head shots, and her daringly masochist turn that redeems the stacked-deck scenario of Rain.
Of all the struggles documentary films face, getting audiences to see them is often the hardest. And in a media landscape that doesn’t offer many venues for such work, it’s about to get even harder, as two bright spots for exposure—the PBS series POV and Independent Lens—are increasingly being shuffled off the schedule under agreements where PBS stations have to air the shows, but not necessarily when anybody is watching, as Andrew Lapin reports.
Another way of looking at truth-telling in cinema: if you’re curious how much leeway the words Based on a True Story allow, Longform has a handy collection of links to magazine articles adapted into feature films, from orchard thieves and doomed fishermen to randy teens on the Saturday night prowl. (Which last one turned out to be fake anyways.)
“So this night they’re filming, he brings a keg of beer into the stadium and a whole bunch of cups, and is walking around in the stands. Meanwhile, I’m out in the bullpen, just watching the game with one of the other owners when someone runs up and says, ‘My God, the Hoquiam police just arrested Bill Murray for selling beer!’” Rob Neyer reminds us of that magical year of 1978 when two of America’s great pastimes, baseball and checking out whatever odd shit Bill Murray’s up to, collided, and Murray spent much of the summer in Aberdeen and Hoquiam coaching and pinch hitting for the Grays Harbor Loggers. Ostensibly to film a comedic short for Saturday Night Live; clearly in fact just for the hell of it. Via Caroline Siede.
“Going out on city streets was originally the plan, but it struck me that shooting the movie in a realistic fashion would never work, especially when I saw the gremlin designs. You couldn’t just take this rubber thing out in the city streets and hit it with light—this movie had to be stylized. It had to look like an old movie…. Luckily the back lots of Warner Bros. and Universal were very quaint and went back to the Forties and even earlier. So we were able to make an idealized small-town environment for our admittedly slightly corny movie.” In a two part interview (the second, alas, not an anarchic upending of the first) Joe Dante talks to Michael Sragow about the Gremlins movies, and how he started Trailers from Hell to replace the culture of movie watching that vanished when old films disappeared from TV.
“I don’t think that there’s much hiding that actors can do. If you’re doing good work, you’re showing a part of yourself to someone, so I can’t say that Twilight doesn’t have anything to do with Still Alice and Sils Maria. They have everything to do with each other. They are who I am.” Kristen Stewart’s eloquent refusal to distance her career-making work in Twilight from her more acclaimed current collaborations with Assayas and Julianne Moore is one reason to admire her latest interview; the best, though, is the charming, sisterly bond she forms with her interviewer, Patti Smith.
“The Mafia is myth. The Mafia is one of the great American myths. There are two truly great American myths, the myth of the Old West and the myth of the Mafia, and they’re both the same story. They’re about promise, about coming here with nothing, and the promise over the next horizon. They’re the same story, told in different ways. One’s told in the city, one’s told in the country. That’s why we love the Mafia. We never tire of the Mafia.” Erik Bauer republishes a 1990s-era interview with John Milius that originally ran in Creative Screenwriting. Smarter talk about working in the industry—and more praise for the NRA—than you’ll get from any half-a-dozen conversations combined with other writers in Hollywood.
“With Fassbinder it wasn’t good behind the scenes—that’s why I only made 16 films with him.” The magazine mono.kultur has made available a brief but revealing excerpt from Edda Bauer’s issue-length interview with Michael Ballhaus, detailing his working relationship with Fassbinder, equal parts learning experience and a trying one. Via David Hudson.
Concurrent with the Berlin Film Festival ran an exhibit of some of the posters designed by Margit and Peter Sickert, the husband and wife team who sign their work Sickerts. In addition to pointing towards the exhibit’s slideshow, Adrian Curry selects some of his favorites to display.
Louis Jourdan, the elegant French heartthrob of such American romantic classics as Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948), Madame Bovary (1949), Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), The Swan (1956), and Gigi (1958), passed away this week at the age of 93. He began his career in French cinema in the 1940s, where he was also active in the French Resistance, but first found stardom in American movies. Other films include Can-Can (1960), A Flea in Her Ear (1968), TV-movie versions of The Count of Monte-Cristo (1975), The Man in the Iron Mask (1977), and (in the title role) Count Dracula (1977), and villains in the Bond film Octopussy (1983) and the cult movies Swamp Thing (1982) and The Return of the Swamp Thing (1989). He retired after appearing in Year of the Comet (1992), another silky villain role, and lived out his final decades in his home in Beverly Hills, California. More from Terrence Rafferty for The New York Times.
Northwest Film Forum presents the American theatrical premiere of John Jeffcoat’s Big in Japan, starring Seattle band Tennis Pro. Jeffcoat will be in attendance for screenings on the opening weekend and Tennis Pro will plays live sets after the Friday and Saturday night screening.
Hard to be a God, the final feature from Russian rebel Alexie German, plays for four days at NWFF, in case you missed it at SIFF last year. The nearly three-hour film is based on a novel by the Strugatskii Brothers (whose novel Roadside Picnic inspired Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker).
Grand Illusion screens a 35mm print of Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971) on Friday and Saturday evening at 9pm, and then again at a 6:30pm screening on Thursday, February 26.
The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with obituaries curated by Sean Axmaker, and other contributions from friends of Parallax View.